Congress Can't Stop Troop Boost in Iraq, Bush Says

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President Bush and Vice President Cheney went on the offensive this weekend, selling the administration's Iraq policy on the airwaves, despite mounting criticism from the American people. Both say Congress can't stop the plan to boost troop levels in Iraq.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The Democrats who now control Congress are divided on what to do next about Iraq. President Bush and Vice President Cheney say they've heard congressional criticism of their new Iraq strategy and they are not changing it.

To walk us through what happens now we're joined by NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's start with President Bush. Last night he was on "60 Minutes" on CBS.

ROBERTS: Which he would consider somewhat hostile territory. But he went there to declare his determination to pursue his most recent Iraq strategy. And he was showing that he is in command of the situation, as he did in his prime time speech earlier last week, last Wednesday. And he reiterated it last night. Let's hear him.

(Soundbite of TV show "60 Minutes")

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it, but I've made my decision and we're going forward.

ROBERTS: Now the president means that the Congress might try to stop him from putting 21,000 more troops into Iraq, and he understands, he said, that the American people are against him. The polls are overwhelmingly showing that the public opinion is against this move. But he is determined to increase the troops. He says he doesn't put his finger in the wind and decide which way the public is going.

INSKEEP: And how does Vice President Cheney add to this debate now?

ROBERTS: Well he also reiterated what the president said, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, and took it up a notch, saying that by going along with public opinion that it was reacting exactly the way Osama bin Laden expected that the American people would get tired of a war and expect America to pull out and that would show that he was right in his view of America.

And on the question of the congressional role, Cheney said that of course Congress has some oversight in funding, but he issued something of a warning to Congress. Here's the Vice President.

(Soundbite of TV show "Fox News Sunday")

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Congress obviously has to support the effort through the power of the purse. So they've got a role to play and we certainly recognize that. But also, you cannot run a war by committee. The Constitution is very clear that the president is in fact, under Article 2, the commander in chief.

ROBERTS: And the business of running a war by committee is something that has been hurled at the Congress regularly. Now the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said that the money is already there for these troops so Congress can't really cut it off in advance and that they will start deploying them. And once the troops are there, Congress would be very, very hesitant indeed to cut off the money for them.

INSKEEP: Cokie, you mentioned that the president was on television trying to show that he's in control. In this argument with Congress and with Democrats is he in fact in control?

ROBERTS: Well the Democrats do not have a plan of their own, and that is something that the Republicans are attacking them for. The vice president said I hear nothing coherent coming out of the Democratic Party. And they do seem to be quite divided about what to do. John Murtha, who is in a position as chairman of the subcommittee that appropriates money for the military, is talking about cutting off funds, whereas Carl Levin, who is chairman of the committee in the Senate that authorizes the money for the military, says no, that's not the way to go. The way to go is a non-binding resolution in the Senate saying that the Senate disapproves of an up-tick of troops. Now non-binding resolutions tend to be something of a cover-your-fanny, if you will, vote, saying we voted against this idea, but no teeth in it.

So that's where the fight is coming, is whether to actually cut off funds or not. And there's a lot of pressure from the left in the Democratic Party, Steve, all around 2008 politics, and it'll be very interesting to see how this all plays out because Democrats are looking for their positions. They might be saved by some Republicans - Senators Lugar and Warner - who are proposing that the Senate back the Iraq Study Group's plan. That might be a way out for the Democrats.

INSKEEP: Cokie, very briefly - amid all this talk of Iraq, the administration has made some statements about Iran in clarifications. What are they trying to say?

ROBERTS: They're trying to warn Iran about activities in Iraq for the moment. And they are saying they're going to go after any Iranian activity in Iraq; that they're not talking about going into Iran, but they certainly won't rule out that possibility, and that's got the Capitol somewhat jittery.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning.

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